April 9, 2014 1:20 pm
Updated: February 2, 2015 2:58 pm

6 vaccination myths debunked

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TORONTO – While a measles outbreak that originated out of Disneyland in the U.S. is slowly growing, health officials in Toronto say they’ve confirmed an outbreak in Canada’s largest city.

There are four cases of measles in Toronto, half of which are children under two years old. The other two are adults from different families, Toronto Public Health said in a statement Monday morning.

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READ MORE: Toronto Public Health investigating measles outbreak

Toronto Public Health has not yet identified a source case or made a known connection between the four cases. It said the risk to the general public is low and advises people to check their immunization records.

In the U.S., nearly 100 cases have been reported in Michigan, Arizona, Utah, Washington, Colorado, Oregon and Nebraska.

READ MORE: Measles outbreak with Disney park origins grows to 95 cases

At this same time last year, outbreaks of measles, whopping cough and mumps were widely reported across Canada and into the U.S. The thing is, these diseases are preventable with vaccines.

Last April, Alberta dealt with another whooping cough outbreak. In B.C. the Fraser Valley has seen measles cases rise to more than 300. Meanwhile, pockets of cases have broken out in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario.

READ MORE: Why the NHL locker room is the perfect catalyst for a mumps outbreak

Don’t forget last Christmas’ mumps outbreak within the NHL.

Doctors are pointing to one culprit: a steadily growing anti-vaccination movement.

READ MORE: Anti-vaccination movement means preventable diseases making a comeback

“When people say some of this might be related to low vaccine rates among people, that’s a huge understatement,” Dr. Gerald Evans, a Queen’s University medicine professor and director of infection control at Kingston General Hospital, told Global News.

“It’s all because of vaccination rates falling. It’s 100 per cent blamed on the fact that people aren’t getting vaccinated,” Evans said.

So what are the concerns of parents who are against vaccination? Global News looks at key questions and response from global health officials.

Are vaccines linked to autism?

In 1998, a study raised concerns about a possible link between the MMR – measles, mumps, rubella – vaccine and autism, setting off widespread panic around the world. The study had its flaws: it was based on only 12 children, and the researchers didn’t find a link between the MMR vaccine and behavioural problems. Ten of the 13 authors of the paper said they shouldn’t have published the paper.

Ultimately, the journal that published the paper issued a formal retraction. It said that its decision to publish the article was the result of a “collective failure.” Subsequent large studies around the world haven’t found a link between the MMR vaccine and autism.

“There is no scientific evidence to support the theory of a link. Because signs of autism may appear around the same age that children receive the MMR vaccine, some parents believe the vaccine causes the condition,” the Canadian Paediatric Society says on its website.

These diseases are basically eradicated, so why should my child get vaccinated?

Yes, some of these diseases were, for the most part, wiped out in much of the Western world in recent years. But because of small pockets of unvaccinated populations, they’ve resurfaced all across Europe and into North America, according to the World Health Organization.

READ MORE: Which Toronto schools have the lowest measles vaccination rates?

According to doctors, anti-vaxxers rely on herd immunity – the level at which there are enough people immunized to protect everyone. But this is risky, though, and the uptake in measles cases across Canada, especially in B.C., is proof, doctors say.

“As soon as we stop vaccinating, we’re vulnerable,” the B.C. Centre for Disease Control says on its website.

Vaccination also goes beyond you and your child. It’s about protecting the vulnerable, including pregnant women, newborn babies, the elderly, and patients who have had organ transplants or are going through chemotherapy, for example.

These diseases aren’t serious. Aren’t they just part of growing up and building immunity?

Doctors say there’s an ebb and flow to the way these diseases disappear and recur. When vaccines work extremely well and you have almost no disease around, it’s difficult to convince families that they should get vaccinated. But those who have encountered measles or other similar diseases in their lifetime know they aren’t pleasant.

READ MORE: How should health officials reverse an anti-vaxxer movement?

What’s worse is that they can come with severe complications in both kids and adults, according to the World Health Organization. Pneumonia, encephalitis, blindness, diarrhea and ear infections are just some of risks. Pregnant women could also harm their babies or put them at risk of serious problems, such as heart, eye and neurological problems.

They’re also deadly. The Canadian Paediatric Society pegs measles as a killer of 250,000 children each year.

Many people who are immunized still get sick, so do vaccines work?

The Public Health Agency of Canada concedes that when there’s an outbreak, some people who have been immunized get sick, but it’s rare.

“No vaccine is 100 per cent effective. Because each individual is different, about 10 to 15 per cent of people vaccinated will not develop immunity to the disease,” the federal agency says on its website.

READ MORE: What caused a whooping cough epidemic? Scientists blame parents

This question is especially relevant when the flu season rolls around. In that case, it can actually take about two weeks for your body to build immunity after getting vaccinated. That’s why health officials suggest you get the flu shot before influenza shows up in your neighbourhood. In other instances, what you’re sick with isn’t the flu but another sickness.

Don’t vaccines contain mercury and isn’t that dangerous to my child?

The mercury-containing compound in some vaccines is called thimerosal. The WHO says it’s organic and added as a preservative. The amount of thimerosal used in the vaccine is small and there is no connection between the compound and autism, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

If I give my child more than one vaccine at a time, won’t that overwhelm his or her immune system?

Within the first two years of life, most Canadian babies receive at least a dozen vaccines. The PHAC is reassuring parents, though, that your child’s immune system can handle combination vaccines.

READ MORE: The real war on vaccines

The WHO says that on a daily basis, kids are exposed to hundreds of foreign substances that trigger an immune response. Colds and sore throats expose children to more antigens than a vaccine.

“Key advantages of having several vaccines at once is fewer clinic visits, which saves time and money, and children are more likely to complete the recommended vaccinations on schedule. Also, when it is possible to have a combined vaccination, e.g. for measles, mumps and rubella, that means fewer injections,” the World Health Organization says on its website.

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carmen.chai@globalnews.ca

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